Editorial note: The following is a submitted opinion piece. The views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Kingstonist.
We are members of Health Providers Against Poverty (HPAP) Kingston, writing in solidarity with encampment residents at Belle Park, as well as across the Katarokwi (Kingston) area.
Our response follows the City of Kingston’s request for a court order to evict residents of the Belle Park encampment. From a human rights to health and housing standpoint, we urge the City to reconsider this decision and to instead work with encampment residents to ensure they have access to health supporting services, and safe, accessible and low-barrier housing.
This is not the first time HPAP Kingston has addressed the City of Kingston’s response to encampments, housing, and/or shelter access. In fact, over the last three years, HPAP Kingston and many community advocates have repeatedly called for a stop to encampment evictions. In a recent media release, the City stated that it “remains committed to finding safe, supportive housing for those experiencing homelessness in the City of Kingston.” However, their ongoing, focused efforts to evict Belle Park encampment residents since 2020 have consistently shown otherwise.
- We therefore request that the City of Kingston stop any proceedings for evictions of encampment residents at Belle Park and across the city. Instead, we ask the City to redirect funding towards community-informed, safe, accessible, and low-barrier housing and shelter options near the Integrated Care Hub.
Moving forward with encampment evictions poses a severe health risk, due to the current overdose crisis, heat warnings, and short-term and long-term health impacts of homelessness. The evictions also risk further alienating encampment residents from service providers.
Many residents of the Belle Park encampment identify it as their safest shelter, mainly because of its proximity to the Integrated Care Hub (ICH), including Consumption and Treatment Services (CTS). Amid a national overdose crisis, CTS staff provide life-saving and non-judgemental harm reduction services. The Hub is currently the city’s only safe injection site. Since 2020, the ICH has reversed over 1,500 overdoses. Through the ICH, encampment residents have access to essential resources and services, including first aid and wound care, primary care, naloxone kits, food, water, and much more. With the City having declared a mental health and addictions crisis in January, moving forward with encampment evictions is not only inconsistent with their commitments to the crisis, but it also endangers the lives and health of encampment residents.
The City’s decision to move forward with evictions is also especially alarming in the context of heat warnings issued as recently as July 7 across Kingston and surrounding areas. The WHO, CDC, and Canadian Red Cross, among other health organizations, strongly recommend staying in the shade or a cool place if possible when heat warnings are issued. Without access to the encampment, residents are at risk of heat stroke, dehydration, exacerbation of existing medical conditions, and death.
In addition, eviction and the threat of eviction can exacerbate the short- and long-term health impacts of homelessness and housing insecurity. They also limit access to safe, consistent and reliable healthcare. Short-term health impacts of homelessness include: substance overdose and death, suicidal ideation and suicide, unintentional injury by falls, assault, or motor vehicles, exposure to fluctuations in weather, and more. Long-term health impacts include: chronic pain, mental illnesses, infectious diseases, cardiorespiratory conditions, neurological conditions, musculoskeletal diseases, diabetes mellitus, anemia, dermatologic conditions, poor dental health, and more. These health outcomes can be prevented and alleviated through health-supporting policies, including but not limited to safe, affordable, accessible, and adequate housing. They cannot be prevented nor alleviated through evictions.
- We request that the City of Kingston prioritize the rights and perspectives of encampment residents. The City’s statements and actions thus far demonstrate not only a lack of equitable consultation of encampment residents, but also a refusal to acknowledge their rights.
In January 2023, the Ontario Superior Court ruled that eviction of a Waterloo Region encampment on city-owned property would be in violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This ruling sets a precedent across Ontario and should be considered by the City as it moves forward with costly proceedings to evict encampment residents from municipal property. Similarly, the UN National Protocol for Homeless Encampments in Canada outlines, “any such removal from their homes or from the land which they occupy, without the provision of appropriate forms of legal protection, is defined as a ‘forced eviction’ and is considered a gross violation of human rights.”
While the City states “there is capacity to accommodate individuals remaining in the encampment, but some have declined offers of shelter and support,” recent reports by the City clearly indicate that there are not enough emergency beds for the over 400 unhoused and precariously housed people in the city. Additionally, social housing waitlists for the City span upwards of eight years. The City has also not disclosed whether or how it has consulted encampment residents, nor what the offers of shelter and support involve. Currently, many housing alternatives are not located near the ICH services, are not low-barrier, and further stigmatize people who use substances. For many residents, the encampment provides safety, privacy, access to healthcare, and a sense of community, all of which are compromised by evictions.
The right to self-determination and access to a safe and guaranteed living space are fundamental to life, yet too often missing from policy decisions. We ask the City to consider the wellbeing and rights of our community members who rely on encampments, and to consider the profound ways that evictions affect health, community, and human rights.
We must remember that encampment residents are human beings. Encampment residents are Kingston community members, and they should be centered in any and all decisions that most impact them. We ask the City of Kingston not to proceed with the evictions of Belle Park encampment residents. Instead, we urge the City to take a human rights based approach to shelter and housing, work with encampment residents, and redirect funds towards community-informed, low-barrier housing.
Health Providers Against Poverty Kingston
Contact: [email protected]
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